Ravens want to keep defenses guessing with Lamar Jackson

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Lamar Jackson might be the quarterback of the future for the Baltimore Ravens, but he can be a headache in the present for opposing defenses.

In Jackson's NFL debut, the Ravens sent the message that the Heisman Trophy winner will be used frequently in an offense that worked this offseason on improving its playmaking ability. Jackson was on the field with quarterback Joe Flacco for five plays in the first half, including one where Jackson took the snap at quarterback and Flacco split out wide.

While the plays with Jackson and Flacco officially totaled 5 yards, the Ravens feel the impact will go beyond the stat sheet.

"They never know what’s going to happen," Jackson said after the 47-3 win over the Buffalo Bills. "Yeah, it keeps the defense guessing."

It wasn't known until 90 minutes before kickoff that Jackson was playing in the season opener. The Ravens went with Jackson as the primary backup to Flacco and made Robert Griffin III inactive.

By the fourth play of the game, Jackson was running from the sideline and lining up in the slot. Flacco faked a handoff to Jackson on an end-around and gave the ball to running back Alex Collins for a 14-yard gain. But it was negated by a holding penalty on guard Alex Lewis.

Later in the opening drive, Jackson was back on the field but at quarterback this time. Trusted with the first red-zone play of the season, Jackson ran after taking the shotgun snap and was stopped for no gain.

"Well, we wanted to establish him as a threat quickly, not a possible threat. We wanted him to go out there and make plays, and generate plays for us," coach John Harbaugh said. "The whole idea is to generate offense."

Harbaugh added, "I guess a side benefit of it is that people have to prepare for certain things. Of course, that’s part of it. I’m not going to say that’s not part of it. But really, the idea is to move the football and create plays, and like we said from the beginning, use all weapons. That’s what we’re trying to do with all of our guys really, and Lamar is one of those guys."

With Jackson, he can run with the ball, throw it or act as a misdirection decoy. The Cincinnati Bengals, who play the Ravens on Thursday night, probably will have to use some of their shortened preparation time on game-planning for Jackson.

The versatility with Jackson came into play on Baltimore's third drive. Flacco pitched the ball to Jackson, who reversed field and overthrew Willie Snead IV on his first NFL pass. Five plays later, the Ravens used Jackson as a decoy in the red zone, where Flacco faked a handoff to Jackson before throwing an incomplete pass.

Jackson's final play with Flacco was on the Ravens' fifth possession, when Flacco faked an end-around handoff to Jackson and Collins rushed for 5 yards.

Ravens safety Eric Weddle appreciates the challenges that Jackson presents for defenders.

“You can’t not work on when Lamar’s in the game. If not, you’ll gash the defense,” Weddle said. “You have to take time. You have to watch the film. Then coaches have to come up with a plan and you have to go out and practice and rep it. So it’s more reps on something you may see or you may not see. And that benefits us.”

Flacco wasn't in favor of the Ravens removing him from under center in the past. It was five years ago when Flacco ripped the use of the Wildcat with Tyrod Taylor, calling it "a high school offense."

Since the addition of Jackson, Flacco has struck a different tone.

“Like I said all along, if we can use him in whatever way we are going to use him, I think we’re going to look at it in a positive way, and going with a demeanor that is going to help us out," Flacco said. "Who knows exactly what it did today, but I think we have to look at it like it helped us out and helped them get thinking and put them on their heels a little bit."